“A Woman’s Nation,” Take Two: Philanthropy’s (Community) Organizing Rules, for Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History

In a recent column, Gara LaMarche, the head of The Atlantic Philanthropies, (“dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people,” www.atlanticphilanthropies.org), discussed a visit with Dick Boone.

Dick was the last director of the Field Foundation, but one of the first foundation directors to make social change a criterion for his grantmaking. Indeed, Mr. LaMarche noted that Dick was a mentor to many of us active today in promoting social justice and equal rights.

Whether as foundation executives, fundraisers, organizational or business executives, or civic leaders–and in large part due to Dick’s tutelage–many of Dick’s students seek to mobilize today’s philanthropy to advance social justice and equality.

Mr. LaMarche observed that Dick began his social justice work in the South-side-Chicago Woodlawn neighborhood, under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky. Yes, it was on the South Side of Chicago that Dick (also) learned the principles of community organizing.

Below, I’ve listed some of those principles because I think they are applicable to building Maria Shriver’s “woman’s nation,” a task for philanthropy too.

You’ll note that many of these “rules for radicals,” as Alinsky termed them, echo an old feminist saw: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” And, yes, I’m betting that in their private moments, if not in their public ones, Maria, Condi, Hillary, and, yes, even Michelle, would witness to this truth. And it’s a good thing for the rest of us that they can.

Here are these rules of engagement:

1) Power is not only what you have, but what [others] think you have.
2) Never go outside the experience of your people (your constituents, whether actual because you are a public official, or metaphorical because you are otherwise a leader).
3) Wherever possible, go outside of the experience of the [opposition].
4) Make the [opposition] live up to [its] own book of rules.
5) Keep the pressure on.
6) The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
7) Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Rebecca

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